A great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun,and the moon beneath her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars (Entrance Antiphon).
Today’s glorious Feast of Our Lady’s Assumption celebrates the dogma of the faith solemnly defined by the Venerable Pope Pius XII during the Holy Year of 1950. It is the supreme crown of her privileges – to be preserved immune from the corruption of the tomb, and like her Son, when death had been conquered, to be carried up body and soul to the exalted glory of heaven, there to sit in splendour at the right hand of her Son, the immortal King of the ages (Apostolic Constitution of Pope Pius XII, Munificentissimus Deus). Today we celebrate the glory of our Mother in the order of grace. Yes, it is true that we are poor banished children of Eve, but more importantly by grace we are children of Mary; and this fact should be for us a source of hope and consolation as we walk our own pilgrimage through life amidst the persecutions of the world and consolations of God.
At times it seems that humanity is on a march to human extinction. This was certainly the case in the first half of the twentieth century with its two world wars. The latter part of that century and our present times are no better as we contend with what Pope John Paul II called the culture of death. What do we say of the events of the last year and a half, as a medical dictatorship evolves into a tyranny affecting almost every aspect of our lives? Respice stellam, voca Mariam! Look to the star, call upon Mary! These are words from a sermon of St. Bernard of Clairvaux: If the storms of temptation arise, if you crash against the rocks of tribulations, look to the star, call upon Mary. If you are tossed about on the waves of pride, of ambition, of slander, of hostility, look to the star, call upon Mary … if you begin to be swallowed up by the abyss of depression and despair, think of Mary! In dangers, in anxiety, in doubt, think of Mary, call upon Mary … When you are terrified by judgement or in despair, think of Mary. If she holds you, you will not fall, if she protects you, you need not fear. Our Lady is our guide and safe haven in life…now and – perhaps most especially, at the hour of our death.
In Dante’s epic poem, The Divine Comedy, the poet puts these words in the mouth of St. Bernard of Clairvaux as he gazes on the beauty of Our Lady in Paradise:
O Virgin Mother, daughter of thy Son,
Humble beyond all creatures and more exalted,
Predestined turning point of God’s intention.
In Our Lady’s glorious Assumption God’s intention is made manifest. Our Lady is the first of God’s children created and redeemed by the Precious Blood of Our Saviour for the glory of Heaven. She who is full grace from the moments of her Immaculate Conception received the fulfillment of grace’s promise in the glory of her bodily Assumption and Queenship. We contemplate her as the Gebirah – the Queen Mother whose Queenship and whose Immaculate Heart will be celebrated next Sunday.
In celebrating this glorious Feast, we also contemplate and celebrate our own destiny, provided we endeavour to persevere along the path of grace. This path is Christ Himself; the path of devout humility that Christ Himself became for us, as St. Augustine teaches us. It is Our Lord Himself whom we encounter and listen to and receive especially in the celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
As we well know, the celebration of Holy Mass is both the school of faith and the feast of faith. The faith however, is nourished not only by doctrine; that is teaching or catechesis and preaching, but also by many other elements. If we consider the faith in the context of what are called the three great transcendentals – truth, goodness and beauty, we easily see that our growth in truth and goodness, essentially our growth in Christ’s likeness, is aided and made persuasive by the experience of beauty in the sacred rites of the Church. Our ability to apprehend and understand the truths of our faith and our willingness to practise the virtues and perform the works of mercy are aided by the experience of beauty in all its forms in the sacred liturgy. The path of beauty (via pulchritudinis) is a privileged path or way of coming to know the truth of God. This is not a question of aesthetics. Pope Benedict recognised the importance of this form of proclamation. Being struck and overcome by the beauty of Christ is a more real, more profound knowledge than mere rational deduction. Of course we must not underrate the importance of theological reflection…but to move from here to disdain or reject the impact produced by the response of the heart in the encounter with beauty as a true form of knowledge would impoverish us and dry up our faith and our theology. We must rediscover this form of knowledge; it is a pressing need of our time. This is especially pressing because generally speaking, the liturgy has suffered the evacuation of mystery and we have made it all about us and very little about God. By God’s grace however, such is not the case as we celebrate Our Lady who is tota pulchra – completely beautiful in her Immaculate Conception and glorious Assumption. Our Marian celebrations should make the mysteries more wondrous and the doctrines more luminous for Our Lady is tota pulchra – completely beautiful.
De Maria numquam satis. Of Mary there is never enough. Again, these are the words of St. Bernard and today and always we make them our very own, especially as we pray and look to the Triumph of Our Lady’s Immaculate Heart. It is to her Immaculate Heart that we look for guidance, consolation and safety in our troubled times. My Immaculate Heart is your sure refuge and the way that will lead you to God. These are words well known to us, spoken by Our Lady precisely for our times as humanity in rebellion and the Church in a state of disorientation both appear to be marching towards auto-demolition. We look to Our Lady, Predestined turning point of God’s intention. It may be that the greatest challenge that we face at this precise moment in human history forgetting God’s intention for us and for humanity. We have been created for glory: to know, love and serve God in this world and to share His Beatitude for all eternity. In dangers, in anxiety, in doubt, think of Mary, call upon Mary … When you are terrified by judgement or in despair, think of Mary. If she holds you, you will not fall, if she protects you, you need not fear. Let us celebrate this Feast with great joy and devotion, for in celebrating this glorious Feast, we also contemplate and celebrate our own destiny. May she is both our Mother and our Queen watch over us and lead us to Heaven.